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November 6, 2011

MM2 Public Relations/HomeAway.com PR Campaign Scores Super Bowl Ad Success by Reuniting Celebrity Actors

By Jim Bucci

Looking for a way to significantly raise the awareness of its brand and its travel category, HomeAway.com — the world's largest online marketplace for vacation rentals — decided that advertising in the 2010 Super Bowl would represent a platform for a year-long marketing program.

In partnership with MM2 Public Relations, HomeAway.com promoted the message to consumers that "You can rent a whole house for half the price of a hotel" through their domestic and international websites. Because the advertising would be the centerpiece of the company's marketing efforts and budget for the year, the plan had to maximize awareness before, during and after the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl ad also reunited celebrity actors Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo in a reprise of their roles from the popular "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie.

"The public relations campaign was designed to build buzz leading up to the Super Bowl, deliver additional exposure in conjunction with the airing of the ad and launch of a related online campaign and build engagement with consumers during a summer-long, experiential program during this important travel period," explains Larry Meltzer, agency principal and creative director at MM2 Public Relations.

The Strategy: HomeAway.com designs Super Bowl advertisement as the centerpiece of its marketing efforts for the year. HomeAway.com decided the 2010 Super Bowl would be the central feature of its marketing program and budget for the year. When most consumers plan a vacation, they first think of hotels for their overnight accommodations, instead of renting an entire house for half the price. PR efforts would need to combat such thinking to raise the public's awareness of HomeAway.com and the overall travel category.

HomeAway.com and MM2 Public Relations determined the campaign's strength would come from leveraging the celebrity factor associated with the ad. The communications team constructed a strategy that would include a series of announcements focusing on different aspects of the ad, timing the announcements when other advertisers historically were quiet.

"The HomeAway.com ad in the Super Bowl and related marketing campaign presented a strong start early in the year for the world's largest online marketplace for vacation rentals," says Meltzer. "Because the campaign represented a significant portion of the marketing spent by HomeAway.com for the year, we recognized the value in extending the theme of the campaign beyond the Super Bowl period."

To ensure that the excitement generated by the ad during the Super Bowl failed to fade when the game ended, HomeAway.com and MM2 Public Relations created a summer-long mobile tour with the iconic "Family Truckster" from the "Vacation" movie. The exact replica created for the ad engaged consumers with HomeAway.com in vacation spots around the country, as well as through social and traditional media.

Closer to the day of the Super Bowl, MM2 Public Relations coordinated an advance exclusive with Us Weekly about the celebrity reunion aspect of the commercial, followed by an announcement with details about the ad concept. Then, the week prior to the Super Bowl, MM2 released news about the broader marketing plans, including online programming and a consumer contest related to theme of the commercial. Finally, the PR team provided embargoed digital files of the commercial to reviewers, to ensure that video assets would be included in media coverage related to the line-up of Super Bowl ads.

"Our keys to success included building early buzz in the hometown of HomeAway.com in Austin, Texas with the arrival of a replica of the iconic 'Family Truckster' used in the filming of the ad, which featured the actors Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo reprising their roles from the popular 'National Lampoon's Vacation' movies," offers Meltzer.

The Challenge: Celebrity actors Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo decide to pass on participating in media interviews. When celebrity actors Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo, featured in the Super Bowl ad, declined to participate in any media interviews or related activities, campaign plans had to change early on. The decision by the actors scuttled conversations with media in exploring behind-the-scenes stories related to the filming when celebrity participation fell through.

But, recognizing the value of the celebrity factor in the "Vacation" themed ad concept, MM2 Public Relations recommended pursuing an advance exclusive with a major entertainment-focused, general-interest publication or online outlet, as a way to create interest and ignite additional buzz from other media.

After People Magazine and The New York Times passed on the exclusive, Us Weekly jumped at the opportunity, running an online mention the evening before the scheduled distribution of the announcement news release. The story stirred up attention from all media categories, including those that passed the first time. In the days after the exclusive ran, 100 media outlets and websites reported on the reunion of Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo for the HomeAway.com ad.

"Another challenge was breaking into and through all the marketing-related news and attention typically associated with the Super Bowl, particularly associated with the hype and anticipation surrounding Super Bowl advertising," adds Meltzer.

Because HomeAway.com is a relatively small company compared with traditional Super Bowl advertisers—and a first-time advertiser with no history—public relations tactics needed to draw attention to the company's upcoming marketing campaign without ruining the "surprise" that occurred when the ad debuted during the game.

The Results: HomeAway.com Super Bowl ad generates top-tier print, broadcast and online coverage. The campaign generated more than 2,800 print, broadcast and online media placements. Print media coverage included placements in The Associated Press, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide. Broadcast media coverage included ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS' "The Early Show" and "Entertainment Tonight."

"This campaign was based on a sound strategy, quality execution, and measurable results," explains Meltzer. "We could measure online activity for each phase of the campaign, both online and in traditional media, and in terms of consumer engagement."

Secrets to Success: Read on as Meltzer offers more tips and explains why this campaign won Silver in "Best Travel, Hospitality & Destinations Campaign" at the 2011 Bulldog Awards for Excellence in Media Relations & Publicity.

  • Arm yourself with research. "We scripted out each phase of the campaign, ensuring that we released no more or no less information than was necessary," he says. "We also thoroughly researched previous coverage of Super Bowl advertising, including best practices for these types of events and topics, and even peaks and valleys of prior years' coverage so we could best determine where an opening might exist for our news."
  • Leverage the synergy between traditional and online media. "We wanted our initial announcement to go viral, so we approached a media outlet that could release our news broadly online late in the day, followed by traditional pick-up the next day," he explains. "Then, we worked through our Tier 1, 2 and 3 media to ensure that we maximized exposure for our message from a geographic and audience perspective."
  • Have a back-up plan. "Our initial target media outlet decided to pass on the news, but we had back-up plans in place to ensure that we didn't lose time in securing the initial placement that would begin to build the buzz," he offers.
  • Combine traditional and social media in planning and execution. "The follow-up experiential campaign—HomeAway's Great American Road Trip—seamlessly blended traditional media engagement with an online presence and on-the-ground experiences for consumers, strengthening each element in a way that each could never achieve on its own," he says.

Winner's Profile: Located in Dallas, Texas, MM2 Public Relations reaches consumers by developing creative campaigns that communicate brand attributes and identity through traditional and emerging channels. For corporate and business-to-business clients, the agency develops message-based campaigns that help drive measurable business results.

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